Jay is somewhat less than amused. While he admits it is a brilliant idea, he chews me out for an extended period of time on how I shouldn't be attracting attention to myself. It's a well known fact I'm an orphan. And there are many in my district that wouldn't be so cruel as to take a child from their parents. I guess that makes me fair game.
As the days since the announcement passed, the packs are growing larger and larger. Jay joined one as quickly as possible. And I can't help but think this is what goes on in the Hunger Games.
Districts One, Two, and Four were the first to surrender. Even before Thirteen was obliterated, the rebellion there was rapidly diminishing. But the remaining Districts held on until it became clear we didn't have a chance. Evidence of the hatred for those three districts by the others was apparent. During the first five or so Hunger Games, they were always the first targets by the other tributes. Then someone got the idea to form an alliance in order to survive the first three days. Ever so slowly the tables turned and now they are the hunters, taking out the field before turning on each other until one comes out the victor.
That's what we're doing now. We'll form our alliances and be ready to take on the others before turning on ourselves. Such a clever way for the Capitol to keep our thoughts occupied on each other rather than the real enemy. It's just one more way to keep us from uniting again. As if the Hunger Games didn't do that on its own.
Everything has changed. As names are tossed left and right on who should go in, I find myself exercising more and more, anything to take my mind off the growing tension around me. I run faster seeing if I can outdistance the suffocating air around me. If that's not enough, I put in more work hours at the plant, but it's getting even worse there.
Arguments are growing in number and intensity. What used to be playful bantering at school or work has now become full blown fist fights. The Peacekeepers never do anything about it, just part of their entertainment. So long as we fight each other, they'll just stand off to the side and watch interfering only to take the instigators in for questioning.
Boron's older brother, Gray, walks me to school now just like Boron used to. Normally he would be in bed this hour after his graveyard shift, but he has insisted on it every day. Everyone knows Gray has already lost someone to the games. I think he's trying to protect me since he wasn't able to protect Boron. It wasn't his fault that he was too old to replace his brother, yet he still punishes himself.
Gray was my childhood crush growing up, but he didn't think of me as anything but his little brother's best friend. I guess some of those feelings still exist if I'm waiting excitedly for his knock on the door. What does that say about me? That I've moved on from Boron? Or I'm retreating back to what's familiar?
There's no time to go through that question when I hear the knock.
"Bye Jay," I shout before opening the door.
Gray stands a good head taller than me, which is impressive since I'm one of the tallest at school. His dark hair is slightly curly and his gray eyes are a sharp contrast to my red hair and green eyes.
"Ready?" Gray asks.
It's a beautiful spring morning with the blossoms all coming out. It's just enough to pull my mind away from everything if only for a moment. Gray is smiling also, maybe enjoying the sights as well?
Today Gray takes a different route to the school. It's longer, but the trees are so stunning this time of year and we only get to enjoy them for a short while. Besides, we left with plenty of time to get there.
Shouting up ahead grabs our attention. From here I can see a small group of Peacekeepers off to the side. Near them is a large group of kids and it can only mean one thing.
"Another fight," Gray sighs. "Let's take the back way."
"Wait," I say stopping in my tracks. I recognize some of the voices. "That's Kyle and Cody."
Kyle and Cody, while never the best of friends, had always been on good terms with the other… until now. For me it's more than that. They were two of Boron's closest friends, friends that promised to watch out for one another… and me.
Before I can do anything, Gray has left my side and hurries to the fight. Without thinking, I follow and push ahead to the front to find that Gray has planted himself between my two friends.
"Enough!" Gray shouts at the top of his lungs.
All eyes are on me him an instant. Cody immediately looks guilty when he sees him and then me, but Kyle is still furious.
"Stay out of this Boron," Kyle shoots back.
My mind backtracks to a day three years ago. Kyle was in a fight with another boy over something stupid. Just like Gray is doing now, Boron interfered although not as abruptly. It's the same. The brothers are exactly the same. And I'm not the only one who was thinking about it.
As soon as the words are out of Kyle's mouth I know he wishes he could reclaim them. He swallows hard, getting his temper into check. "Gray, I'm-"
"Save it," Gray says curtly.
Kyle looks like he wants to say something more, but can't get it out and leaves.
Gray stares at the others, "Don't you all have class?"
As if it's the most brilliant idea in the world, my classmates hurry to be the first to the door. Mr. Scaler, my teacher, is just walking into the school yard as the last of the students are leaving.
"Problem?" Mr. Scaler asks.
"No sir," Gray replies. He turns to me. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Thank you," I say. It's more than just thanks for walking me to school. I'm relieved that fight is over. It may not be a permanent fix to the problem, but it's a start.